Nearly two years after Tim Piazza died in a hazing incident at a Pennsylvania State University fraternity house, a research center studying Greek life will rise in his honor.
Penn State officials on Tuesday will announce the creation of the Timothy J. Piazza Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research and Reform, pledging at least $2 million to endow what they say will examine best practices and “compel the collective change required.”
“Universities have been operating in a void and missing critical information, such as a consistent and cumulative nationwide look at Greek life on our campuses,” Penn State president Eric Barron said in a statement.
Piazza, an engineering major from New Jersey, died in February 2017 after an alcohol-fueled night of hazing at Beta Theta Pi, where he hoped to pledge. He was 19.
Jim Piazza, his father, said Monday that the center “does mean something to us personally. We want Tim’s legacy to save others. They can’t save Tim at this point, but to see them step up and take the lead, they can save others.”
Jim Piazza credited Barron and Penn State with putting up money — in addition to the initial endowment of $2 million, the university will also embark on a campaign to raise $3 million in private support, which it will match — but also with lending its clout to a center that can effect real change.
The Piazza Center will build on the work of the Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research, located at Indiana University since 1979. That organization is dissolving, but its work will move to Penn State. Steve Veldkamp, Penn State’s interim director for fraternity and sorority life, has been executive director at the Indiana center for several years and will continue in that role during the Piazza Center’s establishment.
The new center, which will initiate multidisciplinary research and education, will “help universities develop and refine Greek-life initiatives with the benefit of far greater knowledge and research than has been available in the field," Damon Sims, Penn State’s vice president for student affairs, said in a statement.
A faculty member whose research focus is on student life in college, particularly fraternity and sorority life, will be recruited to affiliate with the Piazza Center, officials said.
Officials at the Indiana center said the move to Penn State will boost its mission.
“Penn State’s plans will fulfill our center’s vision for a fraternity and sorority experience informed by assessment and research aligned with the mission of higher education,” said Kaye Schendel, president of the Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research. “There finally will be the resources necessary to get real answers to these difficult questions.”
The establishment of the Piazza Center follows the passage last year of the Timothy J. Piazza Anti-Hazing Law, one of the strictest such measures in the nation. It strengthened hazing penalties, and requires universities to report hazing incidents and penalties enacted because of them.
In the wake of Piazza’s death, Penn State permanently banned Beta Theta Pi and established new rules for its fraternities and sororities. More than two dozen fraternity members have faced criminal charges in the Piazza case, with some pleading guilty.
Since Tim’s death, Jim Piazza and his wife, Evelyn, have traveled nationally, pushing for tougher anti-hazing laws and educating others about the possible dangers of Greek life.